L'Estocart: Deux Coeurs Aimants / Boterf, Ludus Modalis

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It is difficult to decide what to admire most: the music or the performance. The combination of the two makes this disc a winner.

here are many ensembles which concentrate on the polyphony of the renaissance. Most of them don't pay that much attention to French music written in the second half of the 16th century. French ensembles like the Ensemble Clément Janequin concentrate for the most part on the secular chanson. The sacred repertoire is not fully explored. That is certainly the case with compositions written under the influence of the Reformation. The ensemble Ludus Modalis here set about redressing the balance.

Not much is known about Paschal de l'Estocart. It is not unusual that a year of birth isn't exactly known, but in de l'Estocart’s case we don't even know when he died. All his music which has come down to us was printed in 1582; then he just disappears. There is some circumstantial evidence that he was still alive in 1587 but that’s about it.

His early years are also shrouded in mist. He was born in Noyon (Picardie) and lived for a while in Lyon, where he married in 1563. The next recorded landmark came in 1581 when he enrolled at Basle University. Here he came into contact with the Huguenot pastor Antoine de La Roche-Chandieu, one of the authors of the 'Octonaires de la vanité du monde', a collection of spiritual huitains, set to music by Claude Le Jeune and La Roche-Chandieu himself. The first and second book of the 'Octonaires' were set to music by L'Estocart as well. These were recorded in 1982 by the Ensemble Clément Janequin for Harmonia Mundi. There is every reason to believe that L'Estocart was at the very least sympathetic to the ideas of the Reformation.

The music on this disc is taken from the collection 'Sacrae Cantiones', which contains sacred music on both French and Latin texts. The fact that L'Estocart also used Latin texts gives food for thought that he could have been indecisive in his religious convictions. Composers had to think practically: the inclusion of motets on Latin texts increased the chance of commercial success. The texts of the motets included here (five of the total of 8) are certainly not in conflict with the ideas of the Reformation.

The French pieces belong to the genre called chanson spirituelle. Originally the chanson was mostly of a secular nature. In the wake of the Reformation the – often amorous – texts were replaced by sacred texts. After a while a new genre emerged: protestant songs with original texts and music. These were either metrical psalms (like those by Marot and De Bèze) or chansons spirituelles on non-biblical texts. Both genres are part of the 'Sacrae Cantiones' by L'Estocart.

The melody of a metrical psalm is used by L'Estocart in 'O combien et plaisant', a setting of Psalm 133 (O how pleasant and desirable to see brothers united, amicably). The melody, which appears in the tenor of L'Estocart’s setting, is sung unisono first.

The title of this disc refers to the chanson spirituelle 'Deux coeurs aimants' which is about love according to biblical principles: "Two hearts, in worthy and holy faith, cherishing the sweet pleasure, fidelity's reward". It gives some idea of the character of these chansons spirituelles, many of which are about sin and redemption.

The longest piece on this disc is the 'Ode en douze parties', a series of twelve chansons whose complete title declares the subject matter: "Ode, in which Jesus Christ, the very God and very man, reminds all Christians of the good they receive through him". Christ speaks in all of these pieces: six of the twelve begin with the words "Je suis" (I am). "The anaphoric construction (…) at the start of the strophes is set each time to a rising motif which spans a whole octave, possibly serving to symbolise the metaphysical distance between God and his creation"; so writes Anne Coeurdevey in the booklet. The twelve chansons span the whole of the Bible, beginning with "The work of the creation of the world", followed by "Jesus Christ came to redeem man", his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven and ending with an "Exhortation to Christians to seek all good in Jesus Christ, and uphold His holy word".

"The musical language of L'Estocart is influenced, as with all the French composers of his generation, by that of Lassus. The whole range of compositional techniques, from imitative counterpoint to homorhythmic chordal writing, are employed to serve the goal of expression, the neatness with which the musical syntax matches that of the text, rhythmic variety and the sense of movement (…), and the wide use of rhetoric figures (…)." A good example of chordal writing and use of rhythm to express the text is in the ninth of the chansons from the 'Ode en douze parties', on the text "I reduce the enflamed rage of haughty rulers to air, and dash their intrigues".

The ensemble is very profound in its approach to these compositions. As the chansons were meant to be sung at home, the ensemble have opted for a more intimate acoustic than in the motets. As one of the aims of the ensemble was "to allow the richness of the polyphonic writing as much space as possible" they have opted for a performance without instruments. The scoring of the pieces, written for four to seven voices, varies: "solo voices for the chansons spirituelles and at specific moments during the Ode; doubled upper voices for the psalms; and all doubled voices for the large-scale motets". They also chose to perform these pieces at - "historically justified" - low pitch and with the contemporary French and Latin pronunciation.

This approach has certainly paid off. The result is a recording which is just wonderful: it is difficult to decide what to admire most, the music or the performance. It is the combination of the two which makes this disc a winner. The music is first-rate: how well did L'Estocart translate the texts into music and how well he used the compositional tools of his time to express the meaning of those texts. The ensemble is first-rate: the intonation is immaculate, the blending of the voices and the balance between the voices in the ensemble is excellent. The rhythmic flexibility, the dynamic shading and the communication of the text are most admirable.

I have very much enjoyed this disc, and I sincerely hope Bruno Boterf and his colleagues will record more pieces by L'Estocart.

-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 01, 2009

  • Catalog Number: RAM0703

  • UPC: 4250128507035

  • Label: Ramee

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Paschal De l'Estocart

  • Conductor: Bruno Boterf

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ludus Modalis